New-Wave Nachos

Nachos are one of those classic menu items that never stop evolving. From their simple roots as a way to use up leftover tortillas to ubiquitous feature of “fern bar” menus in the late 1970s to a current-day platform for creativity, the wide-ranging popularity of this appetizer/snack/shareable has hardly wavered. And that makes nachos just as on-trend now.

Datassential puts nachos on 20% of U.S. menus, representing a steady increase of 3% over the past four years, but that really only tells the story of the traditional appetizer made of tortilla chips topped with cheese, meat, salsa, sour cream, and other ingredients.

Change the base, change the toppings, change the condiments and sauces, and you create a different item that still trades on the familiarity of this favorite food. And that makes nachos perfect for signature innovation.

What about Hash Brown Nachos topped with sour cream, black beans, queso, charred tomatillo, pico de gallo, and a fried egg? That turns nachos into a breakfast or brunch item. Put a global twist on the idea using fried wontons, ginger sesame chicken, sriracha honey soy glaze and roasted Asian slaw, drizzled with ginger lime crema.

What about substituting vegetable chips or even sliced veggies for the tortillas for a healthy Crudité Nachos concept? Can nachos of any kind be packed into a paper cone or boat to be a walk-around festival food? Taco Bell has put a spin on the nacho by putting the usual ingredients—seasoned ground beef, cheese sauce, shredded cheese, chiles, guac, and so on—into a portable taco shell. And of course there’s the do-it-yourself Nacho Bar, always a popular feature of employee cafés and school and college/university venues.

Here are some guidelines for varying the components to start your own nacho experiment.

Base Basics

Anything crispy and relatively sturdy makes a good foundation for nachos, including mini rice cakes or crackers, pretzel or bagel chips, thick-cut potato chips, French fries or planks, chicharrones (fried pork skin), fried plantains, fried lasagna noodles or ravioli, triangles of toasted pita or another flatbread, sliced cucumber or zucchini, tortillas of every conceivable variety, even waffles.

Protein Possibilities

The premium part of the nacho build can be used to establish a theme.

  • South-of-the-border upgrades: carnitas, barbacoa, carne asada
  • BBQ: pulled pork, brisket, or smoked chicken
  • Asian: marinated bulgogi beef or char siu pork, cubes of raw or seared tuna, satay chicken in peanut sauce
  • Middle Eastern: marinated meatballs, souvlaki, gyros meat
  • Seafood: seared salmon, shrimp, lobster, scallops
  • Breakfast: hash, cubed bacon or ham, scrambled eggs

Vegan and vegetarian fillings are another possibility, such as potatoes and kale, seasoned beans, or even a “fauxtein” like the Sweet Earth Traditional Grounds.

Say Cheese

Shredded cheddar or cheese sauce is traditional. Brie, feta, blue cheese, mascarpone, Asiago, Havarti, spicy Jack, fresh or smoked mozzarella…these are just some of the exciting substitutions.

Getting Saucy

Sauces and condiments pull the whole nacho thing together. Instead of salsa and sour cream, how about:

  • Hummus of any kind
  • Alfredo sauce
  • Yogurt or labneh
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Gochujang or sriracha
  • Pesto or salsa verde

Finishing Touches

The final piece of an interesting nacho build are the fun things that get scattered on top for additional flavor, color, and texture, from chiles, olives, or capers to toasted nuts and/or seeds, fresh herbs, lime wedges, chow mein noodles, wasabi peas, cubed avocado, or julienne carrots and other vegetables.

Get Started

Source: Datassential SNAP! Nachos (2019)